Football tattoo holds deep-seeded tradition

The Norwich University football team’s symbolic tattoo represents more than a few long practices and grueling games.  It unites over three decades of Norwich football players, according to a recent graduate.

“Once you get the shield you are a part of Norwich football forever. A lot of effort goes into being able to get the shield, so once you get it, it is real important to you,” said Brian Hermanson, 24, a former Norwich football player.

For more than 30 years, football has had a tradition of upperclassmen getting the Norwich shield tattooed onto their body, but there is a process players have to go through in order to receive this honor. An athlete must be at least a sophomore and needs to get the approval from other players on the team that have already earned their shields.

A Norwich football player sports the traditional football tattoo. (The Norwich Record)

A Norwich football player sports the traditional football tattoo. (The Norwich Record)

Another rule about the shield is that a member can only get it tattooed on the right side of their body. When you go to receive the tattoo, the player must have a teammate who already has the shield in company. This experience is what makes receiving the shield more special, according to a former team captain.

“Going to get the tattoo with an upperclassman is the best part of the whole process,” said former captain Rob Sturgis, 22, a recent Norwich graduate. “It feels like you are officially being welcomed as part of the Norwich family forever.”

The unique thing about the shield is how it bonds together different generations of Norwich football players. Freshmen see the shield and do not understand what the tradition is all about until the upperclassmen teach them. Not only does the tattoo provide a bonding experience between freshmen and upperclassmen, but it also connects current players with alumni who also have received the honor to wear the shield.

“As a freshman I didn’t know what to think of it at first. I knew it had to have a lot of meaning for most of the older guys to have it, but I didn’t fully understand it until I started playing with them,” Hermanson said.  “Once that happened, I found out first hand that it had a bigger meaning than any ordinary tattoo.”

“You realize what the shield means after you go through training camp,” said alumnus Chris Gilding, 24, from South Burlington, Vt. “You get the shield to represent all the hard work you put it in with your teammates on the field and in the weight room.”

The shield is something that teammates learn to respect when they come together to play football at Norwich. The players have to touch their tattoos twice before leaving and entering the locker room. The shield is a symbol of the dedication that the players put into this program.

Former running back Patrick Sikora, 23, a graduate from Montpelier, Vt., explained that alumni who return with the shield are looked upon as a part of the team’s special section of the Norwich family. “I feel like I am brothers with them; that we would be able to go to the bar and have a drink and be able to talk about Norwich football like we have known each other forever,” he said.

Getting the shield is an honor and not a privilege, which means the players have to work to earn the right to etch it on their bodies, Sturgis said. This constant reminder of their level of dedication can help players in their offseason workouts.

“People on the team understand that you do not automatically receive the shield just for being on the team,” Sturgis said. “You need to be 100 percent committed to the team all year and if you aren’t then people see that and won’t vote you for the shield.”

“You play other teams and you notice they don’t have a tattoo that multiple players have. They might have their own tradition but I would not trade the tradition of the shield for anything. What I love the most is seeing older guys come back who have the shield,” Gilding said. “You see that and know that they went through the same struggle that we are going through right now.”

“Getting the shield reminds you of all the early morning practices, offseason lifts, and all of your teammates that you did that with. Even if you don’t like the school, you love your football friends forever. It definitely grows on you,” said former linebacker Daniel Reale, 24, from Burlington, Mass.

“It is a sign of honor and over a 100 years of football tradition. If I get voted for it, it would be the highest sign of respect in my eyes. It represents all the hard work, the blood, sweat, and tears that go into this program. It is the reason why we play for each other,” said Danny Triplett, a current football player for Norwich and criminal justice major.

With the 2012 season over for the year, there will be new members of Norwich Football Team receiving the shield in the following months, continuing the tradition of NU football.

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